It’s Orange Prize reading season again, and I’m trying to sneak a few winners or short list books in while I keep moving toward my other goals. I found a way to sneak one into my “alphabonkers” challenge, and I’m counting it for my Around the World challenge on Goodreads (although not for the 6-6-6 challenge on Bookcrossing, since the rules about locations are a little tighter there–hence its listing in the Extra area on the scoresheet). The book is Buddha Da by Anne Donovan. Here’s my review:
At first bein a Buddhist didnae see tae make that much difference tae ma da. He used tae go doon the pub on a Tuesday and noo he went tae the Buddhist Centre tae meditate. Same difference. He never talked aboot it, wis still the same auld da, gaun tae his work, cairryin on in the hoose. He stuck a photie of the Buddha up on the unit in their bedroom and noo and again he’d go in there and shut the door insteid of watchin the telly — meditatin, he said. Ah thought he’d get fed up wi it. He wisnae a great wan for hobbies, my da, but sometimes he’d decide tae take on whit he cries ‘a wee project’. Wanst it wis buildin a gairden shed, anither time it wis strippin an auld sideboard that came fae my granny’s. And of course he’d start it then get fed up and no finish. It drives ma ma roon the bend.
If you’re not Scottish, it may take a few pages to read this one at a normal speed, since you’ll need to sound out the language to make sense of it. But it’s marvelously worth the work. Buddha Da is a great story of what happens in a working class Scottish family when Dad takes up with the local Buddhist lamas and starts to change. The chapters alternate narrators, starting with 12 year old Anne Marie, moving to wife Liz, and finally moving to Jimmy, and then switching back and forth as the plot requires. In any family system, if someone changes too much, it’s disruptive, even if the change is a good one, and so it goes with Jimmy’s increasing commitment to Buddhism, which for a time he moves toward with blinders on, failing to comprehend the degree to which he is neglecting his loved ones as he does so. Donovan does a wonderful job of shifting between the characters and making the voice of each believable. All are likable–this is a family you’d be glad to be a part of, even as you sometimes want to shake them to their senses when they make stupid decisions.
A few weeks ago I reviewed a Thich Nhat Hanh retelling of a Vietnamese folktale. One of the things that annoyed me about that book was how didactic it felt. I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s non-fiction and was frustrated that the novel felt heavy-handed. Donovan, on the other hand, writes a masterful novel, but actually manages to do a little teaching about Buddhism without breaking stride a bit. The reader learns little nuggets about theory and practice along with Jimmy, but they never overpower the storytelling or detract from the realism of the dialogue.
I strongly recommend this book, it moves quickly and is full of life.
Updated score sheet for the year:
Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 5
Asia/Mideast: 2 (Israel, China)
Europe: 1 (England/UK)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 1 (US)
Extra: 1 (Scotland)
Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 2 (CA, NY)
1001 Books (goal 52): 3
A to Z challenge (must be completed in order 26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 4
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan